June 29, 2005

I Just Don't Get The X Games Promoters...

Hey, I like watching the X Games, and I'm glad that they show motorcycling in a decent light (although I don't think freestyle is the best "face" of motocross), and I give them a big thumbs up for incorporating Supermoto in their program. But I don't understand two things:

1) If they're okay with racing (boardercross, snowmobile cross, street luge, bmx) and they're as down with motocross as they say they are, then why the heck don't they include a real motocross race as part of the program? They go all the way out to Camp Woodward for BMX, they can either go to Glen Helen for motocross or run a supercross right in the L.A. Coliseum. Heck, that's where "supercross" started!

2) Why mess up Supermoto when it's already a good thing? Over on Racer X Online, there's a press release regarding format changes for Supermoto. And why is this needed? Ostensibly because Supermoto is not exciting enough as it stands. So what are the changes? They're going to run a longer event (good) and they're going to make one pit stop mandatory (corny). You know, they don't have pitstops in World Superbike or World Supermoto, so what makes them think they're necessary for the X Games? Why don't they just make the riders stop and do pushups, or something equally inane? Changing a tire that doesn't need changing, or taking on fuel that won't be used... how extreme is that?

June 24, 2005

Here's Something You Don't See Everyday

While I was checking out Racerhead over at Racer X Online, I ran across this photo of Budds Creek 125 moto winner Josh Grant and his mechanic, Naveen. Now, I don't know what nationality or culture Naveen claims, but I can safely say I've NEVER seen a black professional motocross mechanic before. That's cool.

Sparkplug #9

Although my last two articles about James Stewart’s woes (last week’s Sparkplug #8 and “Open Letter to James Stewart, Jr.”) generated more traffic to this site than any 10 articles combined, I’m not going to get all ratings-mad and throw up another JBS essay today. Instead, this week’s Sparkplug is a look at the (lack of) innovation in the safety gear we wear.

Let’s start at the top and work our way down, shall we? Motorcycle helmets have become lighter, cooler and more stylish as the years have progressed, but have they gotten any safer? Certainly, today’s full-face motobrainbucket is far safer than the pudding bowls of yesteryear, but is today’s Bell Moto 8demonstrably safer than the original Bell Moto 3 that debuted in the late ‘70’s (and which is still available for sale)? I don’t think so, but I’m no scientist.

One of the things that has always bugged me is the concept that motorcycle helmets are designed to be disposable. That is, after a serious impact, common wisdom (and manufacturer’s instructions) tell us to throw the helmet away. This, after investing about half a grand for the lid and another 5 bills for the custom paint. Compare this to today’s professional football helmet, which is designed to take multiple impacts. Is there some technology that could be transferred from the gridiron to the starting gate? Football helmets are also light and cool. Does anybody know why those helmets have air-filled padding in them and motorcycle helmets do not?

Recent innovations in goggle technology, if you believe the press blurbs, have been centered around improving the sweat absorbing properties of the foam. The last big change in goggles was the introduction of the roll-off vision systems. I’m not sure there’s much more room for innovation; if your goggles can keep rocks out of your eyes, they’ve done their job.

Chest protectors. Some people wonder if these things work at all. I can tell you that my old Thor Aftershok has earned it’s money keeping my chest from getting dented by roosted rocks, but I’m not so sure how protective it is in a fall. Most chest protectors come with explicit disclaimers stating that they will not protect shoulders like football shoulder pads do. The fast vet ex-racer known as “hillbilly” on MotoDrive and MotoNews, used to advocate wearing a professional bullriding safety vest similar to this one… maybe we motocrossers should consider something that will give us more upper body protection. I just heard that Transworld Motocross’ Donn Maeda (get well soon, Donn!) suffered some broken ribs from a get-off at Glen Helen; is it possible that a safety vest could have prevented the injury? There’s no way of knowing, but one thing we DO know is that whatever he was wearing didn’t stop him from getting hurt. There’s no question that there’s room for improvement.

Jerseys aren’t normally thought of as safety gear, but they play an important part in preventing abrasion. And most high-end jerseys feature some type of elbow padding. But the truth of the matter is that jersey innovation is limited to style and comfort issues; all progress on improving safety has stagnated.

Elbow/knee pads and kidney belts. Like goggles, there’s really no room for safety improvement here.

Pants. The last great innovation in pants was the integrated kidney belt offered by HRP (Hannah Racing Products) back in the ‘80’s. The high-waisted wonders didn’t catch the moto-public’s fancy, so I guess they weren’t such a good idea after all. Pants seem to offer less safety features than before. It used to be they came with pockets in the knees that allow you to insert kneeguards. Now, you where your knee brace and/or knee pads under the pants. Is there room for improvement?

Which takes us to the kneebrace, which is truly the biggest safety innovation to hit the market in three decades. Whether custom or off the shelf, almost everyone (except me) is wearing them. There is some evidence that the braces, while protecting the knees, expose the other parts of the leg to danger. A kneebrace will prevent hyperextension of the knee, but the force may be transferred to where the brace clamps onto the rider’s thigh, leading to a fracture of the fibula. Again, I’m no research scientist, so I’m not claiming to know one way or the other. But I do believe the widespread adoption of the kneebrace has prevented many, many injuries.

Boots. There’s got to be something that can be done with boots. We’ve been wearing the same high-rise, heavy leather and plastic (and sometimes steel) plated things for decades now… and still Grant Langston had his ankle dislocated by a rut at Hangtown. Do the boots need to be so high, now that we’ve got full-length knee pads and kneebraces? Look at this interesting book sold by streetbike gear maker Icon, it’s like half of a MX boot. Looks to me like just enough ankle protection, plenty of foot protection, and none of the extra weight and bulk of a traditional dirt boot. But is it safer?

The fact is, motocross safety gear is sold on style and cost drivers. There is an unfortunate assumption by the general motopublic that injuries happen and the gear can only do so much to prevent them. I beg to differ, and I’d like to see the gear makers step to the plate and start spending R&D dollars on safety innovations, instead of the latest graphic designs. Who’s with me?

June 22, 2005

King of Mammoth!

Last weekend while the rest of the motocross universe was at Southern Maryland's Budds Creek National, California motocross fans headed for the mountains... Mammoth Mountain to be precise, for what I think is the most important, most enjoyable race in the state. Here's a fantastic photo of Mammoth winner Jeremy McGrath, courtesy Transworld Motocross. What a background, eh?

I raced Mammoth only once, back in 2002, while I was racing with the Over The Hill Gang. I intend to do it again someday.

June 21, 2005

"Read the internet, believe what you want to believe."

The above quote is by James Stewart. Steve Bruhn (aka The Factory Spectator) has the Monday Morning interview with the Fox-sponsored speedster over at Racer X Online.

James, you've got to do better than that. Tell us what the heck is going on, THEN we'll believe you. As long as you keep it under your hat, the rumor mill will keep churning out possible scenarios, and you're not going to like most of them.

You DO have PR people working for you, right? Put them to work!

June 17, 2005

Sparkplug #8

Outside of an untimely visit by the Grim Reaper, there are only two things that can take an up and coming hotshot motocross pro out of the game: severe injury or career burnout. Today’s Sparkplug will discuss motivation, or more to the point, the lack of motivation, which is probably the chief cause of burnout.

If you’ve been around the motocross game for more than a few years, chances are you know or have heard about a racer suddenly losing all ambition and basically disappearing from the local racing circuit. Usually it’s one of the fastest guys in the area, someone who has been racing since they first learned how to walk. Usually it’s the guy most likely to break out of the local scene and become a nationally ranked pro. Sometimes it’s the guy who has won everything and has nowhere to go… but down.

There has been a lot of internet speculation this week about James Stewart, Jr.’s mysterious performance at the Southwick national last Sunday. As you probably know, he pulled out of the first moto while running in the top 5, and then shocked the entire motonation by sitting out the second moto. And as of this writing, no one but James and his team know the real reason behind his action… but that has not kept us from guessing!

If you follow this space, you also know that I am a big fan of James and am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, for the sake of argument, I’d like to explore the concept that maybe, just maybe the kid is burning out. Or, to put it mildly, suffering from low motivation due to extreme amounts of accumulated wealth and fame.

Let’s face it: here’s an 18 year old kid who has seen more checkered flags than any 20 of us “couch munchers” (his term for us internet moto-racers) put together and multiplied by 5... at least. He already holds more professional records than 99% of the current professional field, he is the current undisputed 125 National win record holder, and there’s almost nothing he can’t make a motocross bike do. Yes it’s true: he has yet to win a 250 moto or overall, but let’s put that into perspective… without a single 250 victory, he’s still a millionaire many, many times over.

That could be the problem. Much has been made of his nearly over-the-top exotic automobile collection. Some feel it’s a waste of good money; let me remind them that used exotics formerly owned by celebrities get top dollar on resale, and if he plays his cards right, he could actually make money on those rides. But the cars are just toys in the end; it’s what’s happening in his investment accounts that really matter. Seeing how he can include Ken Griffey, Jr. and Michael Jordan on his list of friends, it should be safe to say that James has got some solid investment professionals making his money sing. Heck, even if he were only to put away $1 million in a relatively conservative growth mutual fund that returned 12%, in 30 years he’d have almost $36 million… not a bad nest egg. That fact that he’s able to put away so much more at such a young age… well, maybe that’s messing with his motivation a little bit.

To tell the truth, though, I don’t think that’s it. I think James is motivated by his dream of being the best motocross racer to ever breathe oxygen, and that dream, while daring, may never come true. Rick Carmichael has set the bar very, very high. Maybe too high for ANYONE else to reach. Carmichael has single-handedly dashed the dreams and hopes and goals of many of the professional racers in America today.

How many of today’s stars have completely given up on their dreams of actually winning a supercross or national championship? I’m not going to name names here, but you can bet that there are more than a few. What do these men do when it becomes crushingly clear that they will never reach their long-sought-after goal? Some quit. The rest settle for what they can get. You can hear it in their interviews: “I was hoping to get a top 5 today”, or “My goal was to get on the podium and then finish the year in the top ten”. At least they’re still racing, if that’s what they enjoy doing.

Some have wider aspirations and other talents. Now I’m talking about Travis Pastrana. When he turned pro, he was widely assumed to be the racer that would give RC a run for his money. It didn't turn out that way; Travis has not been able to win a single 250 event, SX or outdoors. Travis is bigger than motocross, though, and while he won his crowns (in the 125 class), he may be destined for even bigger things on 4 wheels. We shall see. But there’s no question that having options… and a spate of painful injuries… has caused his motivation for motocross to be questionable, to say the least. Travis knows that his chances of winning a SX title or 250/450 outdoor championship are very slim. So why bother?

Maybe the same realization is starting to dawn on James. Sure, James is a bonafide SX contender, but maybe he has truly met his match in RC. Maybe he believes, like so many American pros, that he’ll never best Carmichael on an outdoor track. And if that’s the case, he’ll never be able to lay claim to the title of Best Ever. Or as the like to say now, Greatest Of All Time. So why bother?

Why indeed.

June 16, 2005

Open Letter To James Stewart, Jr.

Hey man, I’m going to cut to the chase here: don’t let the naysayers get you down.

Yeah, it may have been a rough week, especially if you paid any attention at all to the internet hype machine. Everybody’s dissing you for being a “quitter”. Even your boy RC slung some stuff your way. And you know the truth: no one knows what’s going on with you, but YOU. And that’s cool, except now we don’t know what to think.

Yep, you’ve been a hero to many. No one questions your speed or your ability to ride a motorcycle. But some are starting to question your HEART. Me? I laugh at those fools. I know it took a lot of heart to get to where you are today, and I don’t think you’ve lost any of it. But people, being what they are, will talk anyway. David Pingree said something along the lines of you quitting in frustration ‘cause you’re not used to losing. James, don’t worry, I’m not buying that one either. I know that you’ve got your eyes on a bigger prize than a single moto win… you want to be champion! Of course, that REALLY calls in question your decision to not even ride the second moto at Southwick, leaving so many points on the table.

See, that was such a shocking decision, I am ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE that the only possible reason you would do such a thing had to do with your health. I am convinced that you felt it was in your best interest, health-wise, to write off the moto, and for all intents and purposes, the 2005 title as well. That being the case, I wish you the best and hope that whatever you’re going through heals quickly and fully.

My only problem, James, is that I could be wrong. I was wrong about Kobe Bryant; I believed his “good guy” image and simply did not believe that he had sex with that girl. When Kobe admitted that he DID, I realized that I could be fooled by my heroes’ images.

I’m hoping that I’m not being fooled by yours.

Good luck in Budds Creek this weekend… that’s a great track to shut ‘em all done and prove the naysayers wrong.

June 12, 2005

Man, was I wrong about Southwick!

"Mr. 100", Team Makita Suzuki's Rick Carmichael won his 100th National today, after overcoming a crash in the first moto (in which he finished second to Chad Reed) and then winning the second moto going away. Here's the story on the AMA's website.

Now, Carmichael hasn't won 100 Nationals, today was the 100th National event that he has entered. But he won it and while his consecutive moto win streak was snapped, his consecutive overall win streak continues.

What happened to Boogie? Good question; James dropped out of the first moto and didn't contest the second. Still looking for answers. I've said I thought James still has a chance for the championship... not after today's performance.

In the 250F class, I predicted a win by Mike Alessi and a poor performance by Grant Langston... I sort of got it right, but I was mostly wrong. Big ups to Langston for winning his second overall of the year, even on a still-tender ankle, and even after Alessi took the first moto. Mike apparently crashed out of moto 2. What a day!

June 10, 2005

Sparkplug #7

The very first time I saw Mike Alessi race was at Glen Helen in 2000 (?). They held a 85cc exhibition race between the first and second motos, and although the small turnout was packed with some very fast mini racers, little Mike was clearly the class of the field. That year was the first year that the circuit included Yamaha Hill, a terrifying, near vertical grade that is both steeper and taller than even Glen Helen's famed Mt. St. helen ascent. The promoters unwisely chose to let the mini's run the full course for three laps. I say “unwisely” because Yamaha Hill proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for more than a few of the riders, as they stalled or looped out while struggling up the incline. Alessi, however, climbed the hill with ease every lap. It was an impressive performance.

A few years later, I saw both of the Alessis at a local race at Los Angeles County Raceway. My class was staging behind the mini class, and I was right behind Mike and his little brother Jeff. By then, I had a chance to read a lot of stories about the Alessi clan, many of them negative. It seemed that everyone that followed motocross held an opinion about Tony Alessi and his very quick sons, and I was curious to know what they were really like. So I watched them with interest while they waited for their moto to begin. And you know what? They acted just like normal kids.

It was kind of funny, watching them just be two brothers on minibikes, about to go kick some ass. Jeff was loose and sort of goofing around, while Mike seemed a little more focused, if not slightly bored with the whole thing. There was a light turnout, and there was really no competition there for them that day. In fact, it was pretty clear, by the body language of their support crew, that they were just there to get a workout, get some motos under their belt. Still, the team maintained a clean, professional appearance, and when the checkered flag dropped, Mike and Jeff had put their Hondas on the podium... the only Honda minis in the race.

Later that day I ran into the Alessis again, this time at a local sandwich shop on the way home. Once again, I watched with interest to see if I could get some insight as to why there were so many bad stories about them, maybe catch some primadonna 'tude escaping. And again, they were just like any other family, just another Dad buying lunch for his boys. Normal.

But the truth is that no, they're not normal. They have been under the microscope of the motocrossing public for years now, their every move dissected, studied, discussed and second-guessed. And while this non-stop scrutiny may have resulted in some nasty gossip and a few tales that won't die, to his credit Tony never let it stop them from achieving what they set out to do. Look at them now: Mike has just won his first outdoor national and is a solid contender for the title; Jeff is competing in the premier class, qualifying for the show each week and gaining invaluable experience. The Alessis have it made in the shade, and I ain't mad at them!

I just put myself in their shoes... if I were a young kid, I would certainly want a father like Tony, someone who believed in me and did everything he could to put in in the best situation possible for my racing career. And if I had two young sons that wanted to race, there's no question that I would do all that I could to provide them with the resources needed to succeed. The Alessis are a picture of the perfect motocross family success story; it's as simple as that.

For this upcoming weekend, I predict that Mike is going to use what he learned at last weekend's Southwick warm up race to take the overall victory in the National. And when the circuit hits Budds Creek, I expect that Mike will take both the overall win and the series points lead, just so he can give Tony a father's day present he won't soon forget.

June 09, 2005

What we know about Southwick…

1) It’s the only sand track on the National circuit, and it’s got a well-deserved reputation for being a severe test of man and machine.
2) Somebody’s bike is going to blow up.
3) At least one of the local vet racers “Junkyard Dog” Dowd and “Oh!” Henry, old as they may be, could possibly pull off an upset podium finish in the 450 class.
4) Mike Alessi already has the track wired, having raced and won on it last weekend.
5) Grant Langston is going to have a tough day with his still-tender ankle. It will be a miracle if he can get in the top 10.
6) Mike Brown can send a serious signal to the rest of the 250F class if he can pull off the overall win.
7) Ryan Hughes has never won there. Of course, the same could be said about most of the guys in the 250F class.
8) Chad Reed could possibly upset Kevin Windham for third.
9) Juss Lansoo is the dark horse here. Being from Estonia, there is a good chance that he may be bringing some serious sand track skills to the race.
10) The battle between Rick Carmichael and James Stewart will actually be worth twice the price of admission, if not more.

June 08, 2005

Travis Attacks!

Those friendly folks over at Transworld Motocross have once again provided some outstanding wallpapers for your computer modding pleasure! Here's a great shot of one of my favorites, Travis Pastrana, showing how to blast a berm in perfect attack form. Enjoy!

June 07, 2005

Oh Yeah...

How can you hate Racer X for something like this...?

About Those Links Over Yonder...

Some of you eagle-eyed folks may have noticed the links on the right side of this page. Sure, they're only the most-visited motocross sites in the world, but why are they here? Well, I have chosen to only host links to sites of organizations that have meaning to me. Let me explain how each of them have created this meaning...

MotoDrive is literally my home-away-from-home, a place where I can log in during a terrible day at the office and let off some steam, as well as being a place where I have met some really great motocross phanatiques. Benevolently run by Steve Gibberson, a web tyrant with a heart of gold, to me MotoDrive is one of the very few motocross bulletin boards that can be relied upon for honest, heart-felt discussion of the sport... it's just that the discussion is usually conducted by people who are certifiably insane!

Racer X Illustrated is probably the most trustworthy source of motocross news on the web. Davey Coombs and his web guru Jeff Kocan do a great job of keeping us up-to-date. Plus, Davey has been kind enough to actually give me passes to a few supercrosses, so he DEFINITELY has a special place in my heart... and on my blog!

TransWorld Motocross is also a great source of motocross information, but Donn Maeda and his staff take it even further by providing the world with great video of the world's fastest riders and the country's most beautiful moto-babes. You want a motocross screensaver? TWMX has some of the best, AND they update them weekly. Donn has also been so kind as to give me a sort of factory sponsorship when he lent me an '05 YZ450 AND paid for my entry to the 2005 Day In The Dirt event... so the LEAST I can do is provide a link, right?

One Industries makes some of the best-looking graphics and apparel in the motocross industry and their website is cutting-edge. I had the opportunity to meet owner Danny Dobey early this year, and he was gracious enough to listen to me rant and rave and he STILL picked up the bar tab... link-worthy behavior! Thanks Danny!

Finally (for now), On The Pipe Racing, located somewhere in Wisconsin, makes the list because the owner, Lee, has not only been so kind as to reprint some of my columns, but more importantly, this guy has restored some of the prettiest motocross bikes ever made. Gregg Primm may have more bikes, but Lee's collection goes straight to the heart. You have to check his work out.

June 06, 2005

Alessi Wins Southwick! Already!

Found this story over at Racer X Online. Looks like Mike Alessi has already found the groove at the famous Southwick sand track in Massassachusetts. And it also looks like he's put the wood to Josh Grant and Brock Sellards already... let's see if Mike Brown can keep his points lead this weekend!

June 03, 2005

Sparkplug #6

What is the point of the annual Motocross des Nations? For the riders and fans, it’s all about global bragging rights, a one-day, winner-take-all contest to determine not only the fastest rider in the world, but the fastest nation as well. We’re talking motocross supremacy, even if only for a day. The MXdN has correctly been referred to as the Olympics of motocross, and the fact that the U.S. dominated this event in the 80’s and 90’s makes it that much sweeter.

But what do the factories get out of this event? The MXdN is traditionally held at the end of the normal championship seasons, so by the time the event is run, the factory teams have already burned through their annual budgets. Motorcycle makers race for research & development, prestige and sales promotion. The World and national championship series for the major motocross countries take care of those needs pretty handily. One more race in the off-season doesn’t provide much of a benefit. In fact, it can be argued that the potential negatives, particularly the chance of a star rider getting injured, outweigh any possible upside.

Financial considerations are what reportedly caused the lack of U.S. participation in last year’s MXdN. And in fact, money has been an issue for all of the U.S. teams throughout the years. I even purchased a t-shirt to support the 2000 MXdN; of course, my small donation pales in comparison to the efforts mounted by Racer X’s Davey Coombs and Wonder Warthog Racing’s Scott Kandel, among others. There is no financial incentive for the factories or their riders to participate… it’s all about bragging rights, which is tough to justify on an accounting spreadsheet.

With all that in mind, in my opinion the MXdN in it’s current configuration is obsolete. While there will always be a desire, among racers and their fans, to duke it out and decide who’s got the hottest hand, the fact of the matter is the race simply does not make business sense. And on top of that, the race happens just when the teams and the racers are physically and fiscally depleted from racing all year.

Here’s my solution: the MXdN should, like Major League Baseball’s All-Star break, occur right in the middle of the respective National and MXGP schedules, while the racers are at their peak condition. And to throw more coal on their competitive fires, the events should carry championship points for all participating series, so title contenders will HAVE NO CHOICE but to race the event.

What would it take to get the FIM to implement such a daring change? The FIM (which is the international motorcycle sport governing body) would have to force the factories to accept this disruption… and the championship points situation would favor the top three riders only, because they would be the only ones chosen to compete (a great bonus, in my opinion).

What do you think?

June 02, 2005

Ode To The Alessis

Andy Bowyer penned this lovenote to the Alessi family to be found over at Racer X Online. It's good reading, and a great reminder of how Mike Alessi came to be.